Home > 2010, 21st Century, Australian Literature, Beach and Public Transports Books, Jones SA, Novel > Isabelle of the Moon and Stars by S.A. Jones

Isabelle of the Moon and Stars by S.A. Jones

November 22, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

 

Isabelle of the Moon and Stars by S.A. Jones 2014 Not available in French.

Jones_IsabelleOur family volunteered to welcome an Australian teenage girl in our home for five weeks. She’ll stay with us, go to school with our daughter and will be here to live a French life for a while. She’s from Perth, so I asked Lisa from ANZ Lit Lovers to recommend books set in Western Australia. See, I have a very good reason for buying and reading something out of the #TBR20 list. 🙂 (Still 3 to go, btw). This is how I ended up reading Isabelle of the Moon and Stars by S.A. Jones, a novel I enjoyed very much even if I still have no clue about what Perth looks like.

Ever since The Incident happened two years ago, Isabelle is more surviving than living. She has a dead-end job in statistics and she can’t find any interest in it. Her boss Jack keeps up the appearances about her performance and hides that she’s doing useless reports. Juliette is only hanging on by a thread.

The book opens with her journey in Perth’s public transports and her observation of other people, commuting to work like her. I was hooked right away by Jones’s style:

It is a Monday morning and the train is thick with lassitude. Wherever you look heads loll onto shoulders and eyes are glazed.

Thick with lassitude is really what you can see in the eyes of commuters sometimes. This journey shows us an Isabelle very permeable to the atmosphere around her, to people’s mood.

Isabelle lives in a condo and is a frequent user of the pool of her complex building. She loves swimming and racing against her best friend Evan. I need to say this to explain the book cover unless it is a subtle reference to Virginia Woolf’s drowning. (To me, it’s just another cover being a liability for the novel it advertises.) Isabelle befriends an elderly neighbour, Mrs Graham, who suffers from arthritis but still makes jokes about it. (‘How’s the arthritis today?’ ‘I’m thinking of giving it a name. Hitler maybe. Or Pol Pot.’) Juliette feels that Mrs Graham is very lonely and on impulse, she invites her to a party she’s throwing on the rooftop of the complex for Australia Day.

Only Isabelle had no actual plan to throw a party. Not willing to disappoint Mrs Graham whose eyes lit up at the idea to be invited somewhere, Isabelle feels obliged to organize that party now. Evan comes to her rescue and this project helps her move forward from The Incident and its downfall. Meanwhile in the office, a new attraction grows between Isabelle and her married and much older boss Jack. (The attraction between Isabelle and Jack is stirring like a bear waking from a long, hard winter.)

As we follow Isabelle in her daily life, we learn more about The Incident and more importantly about The Black Place.

There is just her, Isabelle, and The Black Place. The effort of holding herself rigid folds in on itself, like a tremor at maximum velocity. Pins and needles prick her hands and feet. Pain radiates from her blue-turning heart. Involuntarily, her grasping lungs buckle and suck at the air. The Black Place glides under Isabelle’s skin and displaces her. Isabelle is no longer Isabelle. She is a container of despair, a repository of every free-floating grief seeking a home. The panic is as foul as it is inexplicable. It is the panic of the diver breaking the surface and turning, turning, turning to find water at every horizon, the boat gone. Of the woman who wakes in the dark to the shadow of the intruder on the bedroom wall. Isabelle’s mind slips to blades, laceration, knives. Sharp edges that can part skin and leach the bilge until the world grows dim. The idea of blue steel against her skin seems suddenly, achingly beautiful. Isabelle makes a fist and views the underside of her wrist dispassionately. The veins are deep, just a faint blue tracery under her porcelain skin. The moment of contact with the blade would be climactic. Benedictory.

This Black Place has been Isabelle’s cross since her teenage years. She wants to remain in control and tries her best to fight it, to put herself away from temptations and risks to be swallowed by it. Evan is her safe place, her rock and her crutch.

It reminded me of Addition by Toni Jordan because it focuses on a character who has to live with a mental illness. Grace and Isabelle both have to tame something that prevent them to have a “normal” life, whatever that means. Isabelle of the Moon and Stars shows how much energy this illness takes from Isabelle and also what it inflicts on Evan who’s close to her. He helped her after The Incident and he bears the scars from it. The Dark Place, that I picture like the dementors in Harry Potter, something that sucks the life out of you, affects Isabelle but also the people who love her. It’s part of her and she needs to live with it. But what about the others? Do they have to live with it or should they run away to protect themselves?

Isabelle of the Moon and Stars is an atmospheric novel, well-served by Jones’s excellent prose. She balances serious descriptions of Isabelle’s mental issues with a good sense of humour. See here, when Isabelle arrives to work and a new motivation program is implemented by management:

Overnight the office has been festooned with new corporate regalia. P3 – I Believe! blares a poster with a photograph of a wildly smiling Carol Anne giving the thumbs-up. P3 paraphernalia litters Isabelle’s desk – a sticker (P3, PYou, PMe), a box of pencils emblazoned with Performance with a star for the ‘a’ and a new name tag (I am Isabelle and I am P3). When Isabelle turns on her computer a message bleeps at her encouraging her to ‘like’ P3 on Facebook.

I strongly discourage anybody to try to implement that kind of stuff in France for employees would roll their eyes, laugh and throw the goodies away. Anyway.

I didn’t want to tell too much about the plot because it would spoil another reader’s pleasure. Although The Dark Place is a central part of the book, to the point of being a sort of ghost character, it’s not a depressing book. I rooted for Isabelle and hoped she could find a way to dompt this beast and muzzle it. Lisa’s review can be read here, but beware it gives more information about the plot than my billet does.

  1. November 22, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    How the Light gets in: M. J Hyland. Highly recommended. But possibly after your guest leaves.

    Like

    • November 22, 2015 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks.
      It intrigues me that I should wait for her departure…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tom Cunliffe
    November 23, 2015 at 1:29 am

    We have many relatives in Perth although I have never been there. This books looks like an unusual way of getting to know the place a bit better. I share your feelings about the motivational programme – my son works for an Australian Bank in London and they seem to love that sort of thing. Good luck with the five weeks of an additional teenager!

    Like

    • November 23, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      I sure don’t know much about Perth after this novel.

      This motivational program is terrible, isn’t it? It seems to be very Anglo-saxon and it doesn’t work in France.

      Re-additional teenager: My bet is that two smiling ones is easier than one frowning. 🙂

      Like

  3. November 23, 2015 at 10:22 am

    I’m with you on the motivational initiative, too – that quote made me laugh!

    I hope all goes well with your Australian guest. Will your daughter get the chance to go to Perth as part of an exchange programme?

    Like

    • November 23, 2015 at 9:53 pm

      It’s funny, isn’t it? I wouldn’t want to be a manager and have to preach that of corporate program. I’d be terrible at it.

      Unless my daughter and our guest hit it off and she gets an invitation, she’s not supposed to go to Perth after that. It’s an educational organisation that sells stays for students in foreign countries. They are always looking for families willing to share their everyday life and their culture. I hope she likes eating. 🙂

      Like

  4. November 24, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    Should the references to Juliette also be to Isabelle? I got a little confused between the two.

    The cover immediately reminds me of Ophelia, and the famous painting by Millais (http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://lh6.ggpht.com/OBBpnRPcfzsa1vDli-6neSvm5jKAW6XFlwRPv9ezm1-dvd1T3XPiUV7zEks%3Ds1200&imgrefurl=http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/-wGU6cT4JixtPA?utm_source%3Dgoogle%26utm_medium%3Dkp%26hl%3Den-GB%26projectId%3Dart-project&h=816&w=1200&tbnid=fpF7mdwMEBnIHM:&tbnh=136&tbnw=200&usg=__yQWQb3_SsLJw0qVPfRuU0TP90TY=&docid=vG0hrrTs47bLmM&itg=1) – I thought of that before I read any of the billet and it wasn’t a surprise when a suicide reference came in among the quotes.

    What’s tragic about those kind of promotional activities is how often those implementing them seem to genuinely believe in them. I can’t imagine what it would be like to believe something like that had some kind of purpose, a meaning.

    Like

    • November 24, 2015 at 10:04 pm

      It’s Isabelle, of course. Thanks for telling me, I amended the billet. For a reason I can’t explain, this character sounds like a Juliette to me. I kept thinking of her as a Juliette.

      *spoilers*
      Isabelle is not suicidal, she suffers from severe panick attacks, that’s her dark place.
      *end of spoilers*
      I’ve seen this painting in Paris once, there was an exhibition about the pre-Raphaelits. You’re right this cover must come as a reference to Millais’s Ophélia.

      As for the corporate management crap, what can I say, it needs believers. Like all theories and pre-digested ideologies, it needs to be swallowed after chewing it over for a long time and peppering it with a good dose of skepticism. It’s hard for me to adhere to that kind of motivational things. It stirs up my sarcastic mind which then produces a string of jokes and criticisms all illustrated by a lot of smirking and eye-rolling. Well, French managers know better than start that kind of stuff here. American ideas like “employee of the month” are not at all in our working culture.

      Like

  5. December 24, 2015 at 1:44 am

    I’ve had a very disrupted second half of the year and am trying to catch up on blog posts that I’ve missed. This one caught my eye because of the Australian book of course. I’ve been hearing good things about it, partly from Lisa of course. It sounds like a great read. (And my son’s name is Evan – I do hope he’s a nice person in the book! Sounds like he is.)

    I’d love to know what other WA books you’ve read or plan to read, Emma. It’s a fascinating state. I’d happily live in Perth – except it is so far from the rest of Australia.

    Like

    • December 24, 2015 at 11:22 am

      Evan is a real gentleman and a good person. 🙂

      The next one I’ll read is The Hands by Stephen Orr. Now that I’ve completed the #TBR20 challenge, I can reward myself with a book!

      Like

      • December 24, 2015 at 12:29 pm

        Oh phew! Sounds like my son! And now you will have read three Aussie books that I haven’t read. Oh dearie me!

        Like

        • December 24, 2015 at 3:34 pm

          Blame Lisa, she gave me the list. 🙂

          Like

  1. December 5, 2015 at 10:33 pm

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